And so begins the planning of my next two part workshop. “Fix you” by Coldplay is an absolute classic. I love everything about it and adding more and more voices to it always fills me with more and more joy.
I open my workshops up to anyone. It’s a great chance for people to see if they like the way I run a choir and it’s a good opportunity for us to immerse ourselves in something for a long time as opposed to skipping through songs quickly trying to maintain a sense of interest for everyone. Typically my workshops have about 50 attendees – all knowing that they are coming to push themselves a little bit further than usual.
I’m planning to start this workshop with sone mindful appreciation of the music. To give singers the opportunity to really listen to the song, to pick out parts they might not otherwise hear and to understand the structure. When was the last time you stopped and really listened to a song? A great exercise is to listen first only to the bass line. See where it goes. Draw it on paper, draw it in the air with your finger, whatever, but really feel it’s journey through the song. Next pick another instrument. Do the same. Now we are really mindfully listening to the piece and understanding the nuts and bolts of it. This is how I go about listening to harmonies and vocal parts in songs. It takes a while to do, but if you allow yourself the time to immerse yourself in it, it’s truly wonderful.
I’m very fond of this lovely book which my friend Melissa sent to me. It’s full of lovely activities and new ways to appreciate music, something we often don’t take the time to do. We often listen to music whilst we are doing something else (driving, eating, running to name but a few). I challenge you to listen to just one song, just on its own, with no distractions! Or, just come to my workshop and I’ll do it with you!
The structure of “Fix You” needs to be understood and appreciated also. I usually start with the trickiest art of the song and work down from there. In this case, it’s the 4 part harmony section:
“Tears stream down your face, when you loose something you cannot replace
Tear stream down your face and I…………”
By teaching this first, slowly and deliberately, it gives the singers some sense of achievement when we get to this part in the song. So, I will play the 4 versions together first which I will have songs and recorded at home. Then, I’ll play each version separately before splitting the group into the 4 parts. A lovely way for the groups then to learn is to separate off and be in their own space with a ‘leader’ and a recording to follow. Nothing elaborate, just a mobile phone will do. I’ve found this very effective, especially working with junior school age children. Once they have their parts firmly in their heads/ears, we bring the group back together. I use a technique I call ‘huddling’ where each group forms a tight huddle in the four corners of a room. We firstly sing one part, then one and two, then one, two and three, then all four. Once we are stable, in our huddles we take a large step into the middle until we are closer to our rival huddles. And sing again. The plan is that eventually we are stable enough to leave our huddles and have the confidence to sing our own part in any part of the room stood next to anyone. But it does take time. Between rehearsals, I send out the parts via Facebook and the website so that people can practice.
Once the tricky bit is learned, we can go over the rest of the song. Working solely on one song for 2 one and a half hour sessions allows me to really get picky with my singers demanding emotion and expression as well as dynamics and feeling. It gives us all the chance to make something sound wonderful.
I still have some availability on the workshop if you’re at all interested. Or get on touch of you have any further questions about harmony, huddling or how to select songs great for choirs.